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Groove 101 with Scott Johnson
Scott Johnson—Going “Outside” with Rhythmic Intention
Scott Johnson’s storied career spans the gamut from recording with artists like Gilbert and the Ford Blues Band (featuring guitar phenom Robben Ford), to battling it out in the trenches as a first-call session ace. His class focused on the crucial skills a working musician needs and started with a look at the subtle but oft-overlooked components that separate the men from the boys—like dynamics (loud and soft) and duration (short and long). The importance of having solid reading chops was also emphasized. “I've never seen tablature on a gig,” said Johnson as he began demystifying the overwhelming possible combinations of notes and rhythms that paralyze many would-be readers from jumping into the waters. “You see a lot of the same rhythms over and over again, and if you read enough you will start to recognize these rhythms.”
To acquaint the students with some key rhythms and to zone in on the importance of playing in the pocket, Johnson microscopically analyzed all the possible 16th notes in a beat. He had students repeat an attack on each 16th hypnotically against an amplified metronome until it was locked in and grooved. After this felt solid, he broke the class up into sections and had each section play only one part of a 16th note rhythm. Once the class settled in nicely on the vamp, Johnson soloed against the class, at times deliberately manipulating his phrases to make it a real challenge to not get thrown off. No matter how much Johnson displaced his phrases rhythmically, the class held strong and in a little more than an hour, everyone appeared to understand what it means to play in the pocket.
A student (left) opts for a private lesson with instructor Scott Johnson (right).
Mimi Fox—Creative Jazz Improvisation
When you think of a Paul Gilbert camp, chord melodies and Wes-style octaves might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but Gilbert insisted on having a bona fide bebopper on board. “I wanted to get someone that was a really solid jazz player,” says Gilbert. “I hadn’t heard of Mimi so I just Googled “Best New Jazz Artist” and came across her. She’s also on Steve Vai’s label. When I see her play, what she does is so advanced that it just blows my mind. I’m fairly intimidated.”
Almost immediately upon arriving to the resort, Fox formed a bond with Timmons, who recently had the bebop fire re-ignited. For many of her classes, Fox had Timmons join her onstage, and she reciprocated during his classes as well. This made for many exciting musical moments.
Starting off with the nuts and bolts mechanics, Fox talked about key scales, both common (Mixolydian, Lydian b7, whole tone, and diminished half/whole) and uncommon (Byzantine—a harmonic minor scale with a #4), that every jazz player should know. To put it all into context, she improvised lines with these scales as Timmons comped chords, and all ears in the room perked up as they heard the biting tensions these new-to-many scales produced.
Andy Timmons is mesmerized by Mimi Fox's solo guitar stylings.
A point she reiterated often was that she initially learned these colorful sounds by ear after transcribing classic solos from the masters. “Like a mad scientist I would write all this stuff down,” said Fox. She then played through selections she’d transcribed back in the day including Wes Montgomery’s head and solo on “Cariba,” and Pat Martino’s solo on “Lazy Bird.”
Fox was very forthcoming. When a student asked her if she ever messes up onstage, she said, “Honestly, you never stop paying your dues.” She then recounted seeing an iconic jazz piano legend add an extra "A" section to the standard, “Seven Steps to Heaven,” thereby screwing up the form of the tune. That’s the type of mistake that, on the surface, might seem innocuous, but to a jazz player it might result in the pink slip. The class rounded out with Fox and Timmons performing a hyper-burning rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee.”
Andy Timmons discusses how the study of bebop has informed his rock playing.
Andy Timmons—Rock Phrasing Workshop
Taking a less technical teaching approach than Fox, Timmons’ strategy was to show by example and he emphasized his points by playing along to pre-recorded backing tracks for a large portion of the class. He talked about the musical finesse that he garnered from his jazz studies early on and demonstrated via intricate chord melody arrangements of several Beatles tunes, as heard on his release Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper. “Although what I learned was in a jazz context, I was applying it to pop music,” says Timmons. “I may not play bebop licks all the time but how I think is very much informed by the jazz players—things like voice leading, note choice, and chord tones or non-chord tones.”
Timmons offered sage advice to his students about polishing their playing and creating a unique stamp on their instruments. “I call developing your own voice, editing. You know The Beatles were great editors. They learned a bazillion tunes and when it came time to write their own songs they had a library in the back of their heads, ‘Oh yeah, I like that chord change,’” says Timmons. “Stevie Ray was a great editor. He took the best of Albert King, the essence of Jimi Hendrix and all the great blues players but it was about the way he packaged it. It’s about finding the things that connect with you emotionally and applying them to your own thing. It doesn't matter how many words you know, it's how you use them.”
The mood was lightened many times by Timmons’ humorous antics, such as singing the Gilligan’s Island theme over the “Stairway to Heaven” intro riff. The laughter stopped, however, when Timmons closed out the class by performing the jazz standard “All the Things You Are” with Fox in a jaw-dropping, contrapuntal baroque style piece with both artists improvising flowing eighth-note lines that thoroughly nailed the changes.